"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name..." (Matthew 6:9 KJV)Catholics have prayed the Lord's Prayer verbatum, as Christ gave it to us, since the time of the Apostles. Our Eastern Orthodox brethren do the same, as do many of our separated Protestant brethren, including many Evangelicals. It is a common, and often important, part of many Protestant liturgies.
However, there are a few Evangelicals, particularly those from the "anti-liturgical" school, who do not pray the Lord's Prayer (also known as the "Our Father"). They say that Jesus never intended it to be a set formula, repeated over and over again by His followers throughout the ages. Rather, (they claim) He gave it as a general "outline" for our prayers, which should always be put in ones own words.
The alleged "biblical basis" they cite for this is Matthew 6:7, which reads "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking" (KJV). They claim that any recitation of the Lord's Prayer is necessarily "vain repetition", and so this could not have been Jesus' intention in giving the prayer!
Interestingly, they generally do not apply this same principle to the Book of Psalms. That book of the Bible contains no less than 150 pre-written, formulaic prayers! Yet I have never heard anyone say that praying the Psalms verbatum is "vain repetition", or that we must put them "into our own words" or use them as general "outlines" for personal prayer. Evangelicals rightly recognize that these divinely-inspired prayers can be said "as-is", and that we can gain many spiritual benefits from "praying with Scripture".
If this is true of the inspired words of King David, then surely it is true of the very words of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself! Praying the Our Father need not be "vain repetition" if we put our hearts into it and truly mean what we say. It is, after all, a biblical prayer!
Yet the question remains, did Jesus actually intend this prayer to be spoken word-for-word, as He gave it to us? Or is it correct to argue that He gave it as a mere outline for personal prayer?
Judging from the context, it seems He definitely intended His followers to use the very words He dictated to them. He never tells His disciples, "This is an outline for your personal prayers" or anything like that. Instead, He prefaces the Our Father with the words: "After this manner therefore pray ye" (KJV) or "Thus therefore shall you pray" (DV). The obvious meaning is that they are to pray using those very words.
Now, the Lord's Prayer could also serve as an outline for ones own prayers, if one wants. It is the perfect prayer to God, so it certainly could not hurt to pattern ones personal prayers after it. But that does not mean we can neglect praying the very words which Jesus gave us and commanded us to use. He clearly intended this prayer to be one of the marks of His followers.
The early Christians understood this to be true. In the eighth chapter of the Didache, an early Christian manual based on the teachings of the Apostles, we find the following command:
"Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:The early Christians, who were instructed by the Apostles themselves, prayed the Our Father verbatum three times a day! Recitation of the Lord's Prayer, even more than once daily, was an early Christian practice.Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever.Pray this three times each day".
But wouldn't this constitute "vain repetition", which Our Lord condemned? Well, do the angels in heaven engage in vain repetition because "they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev 4:8 KJV)? Did Jesus commit vain repetition when He repeated His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: "(He) went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words" (Mt 26:44)? Or for that matter, do Evangelicals commit vain repetition when they pray the Psalms or the Prayer of Jabez word-for-word, or when they sing a chorus over and over again in church? Obviously some repetition in prayer is permissible, so repeating the Lord's Prayer is not necessarily "vain repetition".
I think the real reason anti-liturgical Evangelicals object to praying the Our Father may very well be because it's a "Catholic practice". Yes, it certainly is that. It is also an early Christian practice which many other Protestants carry on. So all objections to it are ultimately groundless.
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